This article went to press in January 2013. A February 2013 update is at the bottom.
2012 marked the year that violence against women became a partisan issue. The Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994, was the first comprehensive federal effort to combat such violence. The landmark law strengthened the legal response to domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, as well as directed critical funding toward services for survivors. Over the years, it’s provided more than $4 billion to local governments and nonprofits to support programs like rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and legal assistance for survivors.
The VAWA has always enjoyed bipartisan support, but the law was allowed to expire for the first time ever when the 112th Congress wrapped up last January without reauthorizing it.
Although women make up about half of the United States workforce, they represent just 24 percent of careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). In order to correct this, major nonprofit groups have been organizing STEM enrichment camps for middle- and high-school girls, driven by the philosophy that more women will pursue STEM careers if their interest is piqued at an early age.
On April 25, the online edition of the Journal of Sexual Medicine ran an article by cosmetic gynecologist Adam Ostrzenski, MD, who reported that he had teased a “blue grape-like” sac out of a dead woman’s vagina. This was proof, he claimed, of the “anatomic existence” of the G-spot, the elusive (but much-heralded) erotogenic area that can be stimulated through the vaginal wall.
When Jess came to the University of Washington as a freshman, she was a feminist economics major whose postcollege goal was to land a position at an organization dedicated to social entrepreneurship. Now in her early 20s and just a few years out of college, she is married, looking forward to a life as a homemaker, and involved full-time at the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, one of the hippest, fastest-growing, and most conservative evangelical churches in the nation.
Little serious thought has been devoted to the trophy wife, that caricature permanently relegated to being an adornment on the arm of a spouse defined by his wealth and power, the May to her husband’s December.
In February 2012, PBS host Tavis Smiley interviewed Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer about their Oscar nominations for their roles as Aibileen and Minny, Jim Crow–era domestic workers in The Help. “I’m pulling for both of you to win on Academy Award night,” Smiley ventured. “But there’s something that sticks in my craw about celebrating Hattie McDaniel so many years ago for playing a maid”—a reference to the actor who won for her role as Mammy in 1939’s Gone with the Wind. “I want you to win,” Smiley concluded, “but I’m ambivalent about what you’re winning for.”
Davis countered that it is hard for black actresses to find multifaceted roles in Hollywood, and that pressure from the black community to eschew portrayals that are not heroic makes it even harder: “That very mind-set that you have, and that a lot of African-Americans have, is absolutely destroying the black artist…. If your criticism is that you just don’t want to see the maid...then I have an issue with that. Do I always have to be noble?”
Laurie Penny is an British journalist and blogger who came to prominence with her riveting frontline coverage of the student protests in London in 2010 in The New Statesman, The Guardian, and other outlets. After releasing her first book, Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism (Zero Books) in April 2011, the prolific Penny recently followed up with a collection of her journalistic work, Penny Red: Notes from the New Age of Dissent(Pluto Press). Her third book will be published by Bloomsbury in 2013.
Ever since the age of 2, when his hair first started growing in, my son Elijah has been mistaken for a girl. As he grew, so did his curls; they now frame his face and inch toward his shoulders, with every offer to trim them rebuffed. Elijah was 3 when he started painting his toenails; he had been watching me give myself pedicures, and decided that his toes needed some color as well. Now, at 4, he parades around his best friend’s house wearing her frilliest purple dress while they play detailed and intense games of “Princess.”
Women are God-fearing and don’t challenge institutions. Men, on the other hand, are skeptical and rational, and go out of their way to publicly call bullshit on faith and religion—which is why today’s well-known secular thinkers, especially in the ranks of the New Atheism movement, are all male.